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Cost of living: dealing with high gas and electricity bills

Contact your energy supplier

If you are struggling to pay your energy bills or you have already fallen behind with payments, get in touch with your supplier as soon as possible. Your supplier has a range of options to help you. The support they may be able to offer you will depend on your situation. Examples of help include:

  • a short-term payment break or a reduction in your payments;
  • advice on accessing financial support that may be available, like benefits you may be entitled to or grants that could pay towards energy debt; and
  • energy efficiency advice.

If you pay by direct debit, you can ask your supplier to explain how your direct debit payment has been worked out. Your supplier may be able to reduce the direct debit if:

  • it is currently based on an overestimate of how much energy you use in a year (see Taking meter readings below); or
  • it includes an amount to repay a debt to your supplier.

If you are in arrears, your supplier should work with you to set up a repayment plan that is affordable to you. For more information, see our Gas and electricity arrears fact sheet.

Taking meter readings

If your bill is based on estimated readings, your supplier could be charging you too much if their estimate is higher than your actual usage. Keep your energy bills as accurate as possible by regularly taking meter readings and sending them to your supplier. If your bill is based on an estimated reading that is too low, providing a meter reading will increase your bill.

If you have been paying for more energy than you have used, your energy account may be in credit. You can ask your supplier for a partial or full refund if you are in credit, but you should consider whether reducing the credit balance will make it difficult to pay your energy bills in colder months. If your supplier refuses to give you a refund, they must explain why they think it is reasonable to hold onto the credit.

For information on how to read your meter, see the Citizens Advice webpage How to read your gas or electricity meter.

If you are not able to physically take a meter reading, your supplier may be able to offer you extra help. See the Priority services register information in our Gas and electricity arrears fact sheet.

Smart meters

Smart meters are a newer type of gas and electricity meter that can send automatic meter readings to your supplier. Bills can be more accurate if you have a smart meter because automatic meter readings mean that your supplier does not have to estimate how much energy you have used.

Smart meters also come with an in-home display, which is a device that shows you how much energy you are using and how much it is costing you in pounds and pence. The information from an in-home display may also help you to identify how you can reduce your energy usage to save money.

Over the next few years, suppliers will have to offer a free smart meter to all of their customers. If you do not have a smart meter already, you can contact your supplier to ask if they will install one for you now.

The Smart Energy GB website has more information about smart meters and their benefits.

Smart meters if you rent your home

You can choose to have a smart meter if you are named on the bill. However, you should check your tenancy agreement to see if there are any rules about the type of meter that can be installed in the property. You may need your landlord’s permission before having a smart meter installed.

If you already have a smart meter

Some smart meters have temporarily stopped working in ‘smart mode’. This means that they are not sending automatic meter readings to suppliers.

If you have a smart meter, use the Citizens Advice smart meter check tool to see if your meter is working in ‘smart mode’. If it isn’t, you should send regular meter readings to your supplier to make sure that you are billed accurately while your meter is not working in smart mode.

Prepayment meters

You should speak to your supplier if you have a prepayment meter and your credit is running low or has run out.

Your supplier may be able to offer you a fuel voucher. A fuel voucher is a code that can be used to add credit to your gas or electricity prepayment meter. Fuel vouchers can usually be redeemed at Post Offices and outlets with PayPoint or Payzone services. You will not have to repay any credit you get through a fuel voucher.

When you speak to your supplier, let them know if you are in financial difficulty and explain if there is anything about your circumstances that makes you vulnerable. There are a wide range of reasons you could be in a vulnerable situation, for example, having a low income, living with a physical or mental health issue or living in a cold energy-inefficient home. Your supplier may offer you an additional support credit to help keep you on supply.

Most prepayment meters also have functions built in to provide:

  • emergency credit, which provides a small amount of credit in emergency situations where you cannot top up your meter; and
  • friendly-hours credit, which allows you to access a small amount of credit at times when top-up points are likely to be closed (this is usually evenings, weekends and bank holidays).

If you do not know how to access the emergency or friendly-hours credit functions, contact your supplier.

You will have to repay any additional support, emergency or friendly-hours credit that you are given. Discuss with your supplier how the credit will be repaid. Your supplier must consider your ability to pay when agreeing a repayment plan with you. For more information, see our Gas and electricity arrears fact sheet.

Help with the cost of energy

Warm Home Discount

The Warm Home Discount is an automatic one-off payment of £150 to reduce winter energy bills. Licensed electricity suppliers must take part in the scheme if they have at least 1,000 customers. To qualify for the discount, you will need to meet either ‘Core Group 1’ or ‘Core Group 2’ criteria.

Core Group 1

You may be eligible for the discount if your supplier takes part in the scheme and on 13 August 2023:

  • you or your partner were named on the energy bill; and
  • you or your partner were getting the Guarantee Credit part of Pension Credit.

If you think you are eligible under Core Group 1 but you have not yet received a letter confirming this, contact the Warm Home Discount Scheme helpline on 0800 030 9322.

Core Group 2

You may be eligible for the discount if your supplier takes part in the scheme and you meet low-income and high-energy-cost criteria.

To meet the low-income criteria, you or your partner will need to have been in receipt of one of the following on 13 August 2023.

  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance.
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance.
  • Income Support.
  • Only the Savings Credit part of Pension Credit (if you are in receipt of the Guarantee Credit part, you should be eligible for a discount under Core Group 1 criteria).
  • Universal Credit.
  • Housing Benefit.
  • Child Tax Credit or Working Tax Credit and your household income is below a certain threshold. The threshold that will be applied will depend on the size of your household and whether you are single or part of a couple. For more information see GOV.UK.

To meet the high-energy-cost criteria, the government will have to identify your property as being likely to have high heating costs. They will try do this by looking at property data held by the Valuation Office Agency (VOA). However, iti s important to check your post regularly as you may be asked to provide further information to help decide whether you are eligible.

If you meet the low-income criteria but do not receive a letter about Warm Home Discount entitlement by the middle of January 2024, it is likely that your property has not been identified as having high heating costs.

For more information on the Warm Home Discount Scheme, see GOV.UK. You can also check whether you may be eligible for a Warm Home Discount or get information on how you can challenge a decision that you are not eligible by:

Winter Fuel Payment

The Winter Fuel Payment is a one-off, tax-free payment of between £100 and £300 that is made during the winter to help with heating costs if you are eligible for the payment. For winter 2023-24 only, this payment will be topped up with a Pensioner Cost of Living Payment of between £150 to £300.

You may be eligible for the payment if you were born on or before 24 September 1957.

The payment is normally made in November or December. It is usually paid automatically to anyone who is eligible, but in some circumstances you may have to apply for the payment.

For more information, see GOV.UK.

Cold Weather Payment

The Cold Weather Payment is a £25 payment made for each seven-day period of very cold weather between 1 November and 31 March. If you are eligible, the payment will be made when the average temperature in your area is recorded as, or forecast to be, zero degrees Celsius or below over seven consecutive days.

To be eligible for this payment, you need to be getting certain benefits. For full eligibility criteria, see GOV.UK.

Cold Weather Payments are usually made automatically. However, you must make sure you tell Jobcentre Plus if you are getting income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or Income Support and:

  • you or your partner have a baby; or
  • a child under five comes to live with you.

If Jobcentre Plus is not informed of the change, you might not automatically get the Cold Weather Payment.

Household Support Fund (England)

The Household Support Fund allows councils to give small grants to help vulnerable households meet essential costs, including paying energy bills. Contact your local council to check if you may be eligible for support from the fund.

Smart meter discount schemes

If you have a smart meter, your supplier may run a discount scheme under National Grid’s Demand Flexibility Service. If your supplier has a discount scheme, you may be able to receive discounts for reducing your electricity usage at selected peak times during the period 1 November 2023 to 31 March 2024. Suppliers will set the times that usage will need to be reduced and they will provide 24 hours’ notice of each session where you may voluntarily reduce your electricity usage to qualify for a discount.

Contact your supplier or check their website for information on whether they are running a discount scheme, how to sign up to it and how discounts will be provided.

Warm banks

The cost-of-living crisis is making it difficult for many people to cover all of their essential costs, such as keeping their home warm and buying food. If you are struggling, using a warm bank may help you to free up some money.

  • Warm banks are safe places provided by some councils and charitable organisations where you can spend time to keep warm without having to worry about paying the heating bill.
  • Warm banks can be found in different places, such as libraries, community centres and places of worship.
  • While warm banks offer somewhere to keep warm, some may offer additional support like a warm meal or advice.

The warmspaces.org website allows you to search for places near you where you can keep warm. Not all warm banks will be registered on this site, so you could also try searching on the internet using terms like ‘warm bank’ and ‘warm space’.

Trust funds and charities

You may be able to get a grant from a charitable fund to pay off energy debts. You can ask your supplier if they have any funds or schemes that can help you, or you can contact us for advice.

There may be other charities that can help you with your energy bills. Turn2us can try to find charities that may be able to help you. You can do a search on the Turn2us website for a grant.

Government support schemes have ended

The government ran several schemes to help support households with the rising costs of energy. The support included limits on what you could be charged per unit of gas or electricity and a £400 discount on the energy bills of every household with an electricity connection.

As the support from government support schemes has ended, you may find that your bills have increased even though your usage has stayed the same.

For more information on the support that was provided, see GOV.UK.

If you pay energy costs to a landlord, they had to consider passing the support on to you. Your landlord had to notify you of their decision on how much they would pass on, even if they decided it was not appropriate to pass on any support. Contact us for advice if you feel your landlord has not passed on the right amount of benefit from a government support scheme. You can also find more information on landlords’ obligations on GOV.UK.

Energy efficiency

Free energy saving advice

The Ofgem website and GOV.UK website provide free, impartial information and guidance on how to save energy. The tips given on the websites are broken down into quick and free actions you can take to reduce your energy use and home improvements that can save money in the long term.

If you are a homeowner, you can also use an online service on GOV.UK to get recommendations for home improvements that could make your property cheaper to heat and keep warm. If you live in England and cannot access the tool online, you can call the Home Retrofit Advice and Information Line on 0800 098 7950 (Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm and Saturday 9am to 12pm).

The page Get help with the cost of energy efficiency on the Citizens Advice website has advice about grants and funding that may be available for energy-saving home improvements.

Free energy-efficiency consultation

The Groundwork charity runs a Green Doctor service to help people stay warm, stay well, and save money on household bills. If there is a Green Doctor project near you, you may qualify for a free in-home consultation from an energy-efficiency expert. Examples of free help that you may be able to get through a consultation include:

  • fixing causes of heat loss in your home;
  • tackling problems with damp or mould;
  • tips on saving energy while keeping your home safe and comfortable;
  • installation of small energy efficiency measures; and
  • help with accessing other support such as government grants.

Visit the Green Doctor website to check if there is a project local to you. The website also has videos and guides with tips on saving energy and keeping warm.

Checking your boiler settings

If you have a combi-boiler, see Nesta’s Money Saving Boiler Challenge for information on how you may be able to save money on your gas bills. The website provides a step-by-step guide on identifying whether changing the ‘flow temperature’ setting on your boiler may save you some money and gives instructions on how to change the setting.

Ten top tips for saving energy

Take a look at the Energy Saving Trust’s top ten tips for saving energy to see if you can do anything else to lower your bills.